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What is Dicentra?

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  • Written By: Vasanth S.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Dicentra is a plant genus that is part of the Fumariaceae family. It contains about 20 species of annual and perennial herbs that are native to North America and Asia. These plants have parsley-like foliage and arching stems that dangle heart-shaped flowers. Landscapers use these plants in flower beds, borders, or as ground cover. Most of the plants in the Dicentra genus are easy to maintain, but they are susceptible to damage caused by slugs.

The genus name is derived from the Greek words dis and kentron, which translate to "twice" and "spur," respectively. This describes the two spurs on each flower. The common name for these plants is bleeding heart. Several species have variations of the common name, including Dicentra formosa, which is commonly called western bleeding heart.

Most of the plants in this genus grow in the deciduous forests of Canada, the United States, and eastern Asia. Dicentra peregrina is distributed across Siberia and Japan. Dicentra canadensis populates the landscape between Quebec and Manitoba and the area south to Georgia and Missouri. Dicentra pauciflora is native to Oregon and California.

A commonly cultivated species is Dicentra spectabilis. It grows about 4 feet (1.2 m) in height and spreads about 1.5 feet (0.45 m). The foliage consists of bright green leaves that are divided. Several stems rise above the foliage and support the flowers.

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The flowers are raceme, meaning that several short stalks sprout along the stem. D. spectabilis blooms pink and white flowers in late spring and early summer. A variety of D. scandens produces yellow flowers, while D. eximia blooms purple flowers.

D. spectabilis requires well-draining, fertile soil that is slightly acidic. Loamy and clay soil are fine as long as the proper amendments are added. This kind of bleeding heart can thrive in a partially shaded area or one that is exposed to full sunlight. It is recommended to prune this plant in late autumn.

The best way to propagate D. spectabilis is through division. Usually, the entire plant is uprooted before the division is made. If the roots are not that strong, the division can be made by hand. If not, a sharp knife is used.

The most common problem encountered with this plant is damage from slugs. Typically, slugs eat the leaves or flowers of the plant. Signs of infestation include slime trails on branches or leaves. The best way to prevent infestation is to use traps or pesticides.

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